There's just one week to go until the 2023 NFL Draft and by now we're all just about worn out from all the mock drafts, big boards, visits, interviews and other rumors. But over the last few months the collection of mock draft insight from the experts has helped paint a picture of the different directions the Patriots could go with their 14th overall pick.
Of course, there's far more to a draft than the first pick and that's why Evan Lazar and I composed our 2023 Big Boards to highlight some of the other fits further down the draft board, with Evan focusing extensively on Top-100 prospects while I focused on some later round players who check some important boxes.
But there's no arguing the first pick will be the one that gets all the headlines and there have been some interesting choices prescribed by the national media for the Patriots. Here are some trends that stand out for the team's first selection.
Devon Witherspoon, top vote getter
Witherspoon is the most popular Patriots mock draft pick by the pundits. He's been a riser over the last couple of months and there's plenty of Patriots plays across his tape, with missile-like hits and violent tackles scattered across any footage you put on. Other than lacking the ideal length and bulk to match up on the outside with bigger receivers that others in the class like Christian Gonzalez and Joey Porter Jr. have, Witherspoon is an easy projection into the Patriots secondary where he could be an immediate match-up piece that brings an edge to the defense. Speed, plays on the ball (17 passes defensed in 2022, Three interceptions), aggressive... there's a lot to work with.
The question is if the Patriots don't already have enough of those kinds of players with Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, Marcus Jones and Jack Jones. Would Witherspoon fill the bigger need for a longer player who can help with the bigger receivers on the outside? But he's a tough, fiery player who plays their kind of ball so it's a tough pick to knock.
Three big needs get attention
The top three needs of this Patriots offseason have been mutually agreed upon by just about everyone -- offensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver. So it's not surprising to see a three-way tie receiving the second-most votes at those three spots. Broderick Jones of Georgia is the tackle, Zay Flowers from BC the receiver and Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State is the corner, also coming in behind Witherspoon at the position.
Jones was my final choice in Mock Draft 3.0 and while there's no question he's raw, I love his potential with athleticism and a ferocious blocking style on the run. There are tackles available later who could be developed behind the veterans the team added in free agency, but the trio at the top -- Jones, Paris Johnson and Peter Skoronski -- are a margin above.
Zay Flowers has had plenty of contact with the Pats this offseason and it's easy to see why there's some energy around him locally. Like the tackle spot, there are other receivers who will make their living inside available later in the draft, but Flowers has an explosive three-level element that later players like Josh Downs or Jayden Reed probably don't.
A ten-year blindside tackle or a dynamic wideout is a great football debate, and one further complicated when a potential shutdown cornerback enters the conversation. Porter has the length that Witherspoon doesn't, perhaps allowing him to fill that bigger need mentioned.
All three of these players make sense and really boil down to how the Patriots draft room truly sees them and how much development each would require.
Every now and then someone comes out with a mock draft that makes you question what the hell they were thinking, but often they're the most fun to debate and discuss.
Let's start with Bijan Robinson, a stellar running back from Texas who likely would've been a top-10 pick in decades past. Would Robinson bring a playmaking element to the Patriots offense? Absolutely, but Rhamondre Stevenson already does that and the team drafted two running backs last year who should be able to replace what they lost in Damien Harris. Robinson seems like a really long shot, just like Anthony Richardson does but those mock drafts are the spice of the draft's silly season.
Christian Gonzalez, cornerback from Oregon, topped both our Big Boards and he's the kind of dream pick I can get behind but it's almost impossible to see him falling to 14. Gonzalez has all the tools to be exactly the kind of outside do-it-all corner the Patriots need, just like Paris Johnson has an even high ceiling than Broderick Jones, but both are going to be long gone by the time the Patriots pick, though an argument could be made both are worth a trade-up if the team feels that strongly about them.
Best of the Rest
A few others to highlight include Maryland's Deonte Banks, a cornerback that is my second-favorite fit behind Gonzalez, surpassing Porter. Peter Skoronski is the most experienced left tackle in the class but lacks the length that Jones and Johnson both have. He'll be a long-time NFL'er but if he ends up at guard the Patriots will have a surplus at the position. Darnell Wright from Tennesee is another ascending offensive tackle but is likely below the dividing line between those with high-end left tackle potential and those likely to project to the right side. Anton Harrison is also represented in the mock roundup and is one to watch who is above that left tackle projection line.
The Forgotten Need
The lack of edge players in the mock drafts is a bit surprising. Certainly, the team has not been ignoring the position, meeting with all of the top prospects including Lucas Van Ness, Nolan Smith, Tyree Wilson and Myles Murphy. While everyone has their focus set on the agreed-upon top three, it could be one of these top edge players that falls through the cracks and ends up in New England.
At this point, on paper, the entire front seven returns from 2022 after notching 54 sacks, third-best in the league. From that view, pass rush is not a screaming need. From a larger perspective, they need is to figure out how to stop Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa and probably Aaron Rodgers in the key moments. Many, including myself, think it's about having an elite cornerback. But all four of those edge players mentioned would bring an exciting dose of youthful promise to the defensive front and could certainly help in the battle against those quarterbacks who have had recent success against the Patriots defense, despite strong overall seasons.